Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Feature - Living in Limbo

First - in another clone moment, I'm at Elizabeth Spann Craig's blog, Mystery Writing is Murder, talking about writing, so be sure you get over there for the 'meaty' stuff. Since I'm talking writing there, it's going to be one of those "real life" posts here.

A slight change of pace this week. Sorry, but things have been crazy here. We signed a contract on our house. We're trying not to get too excited, because that's only the first step, and as our Realtor points out, we won't really know how it pans out until 10 minutes after we sign the closing papers. So, we're living in limbo. There are pictures, but not the usual sort.

We agreed on a price and signed and initialed a ream of papers. This afternoon, they buyers scheduled a house inspection. About an hour before they were due, two people showed up saying they were here to inspect and pump out the septic tank. Seems that was part of the inspection, although nobody bothered to tell us. Since the buyers ordered it, we let them at it.

The termite inspector showed up shortly thereafter, with the whole-house inspector on his heels. The buyers arrived, and a while later, so did their Realtor.

Mostly we sat around while the inspectors did their thing.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Non-Plotter Plots a Workshop

For the last few days, I've been working on putting together my workshop for the First Coast Romance Writer's February 13th meeting in Jacksonville. (Which is scary enough, because they're billing me as an "award winning author". That's not a lie, but my awards aren't exactly the equivalents of the Oscars or Golden Globes.) And speaking of awards, I seem to have garnered a couple more blog awards, which I'll address in a future post.

The group asked me to speak on the way I plot, which followers of this blog will know is very loosely. In addition, by now you should be aware of my dislike of spoilers. I don't want to know what's going to happen until it happens.

My preference for the workshop would be to have an informal chat, a little brainstorming, and chat about what other folks use for their plotting. I think back to my school teaching days, and of lesson plans, which sends a shiver down my spine. I tended to teach by discussing, questions – more the Socratic method, since I was teaching junior high Science, and trying to lecture to those human bags of hormones was a guarantee to elicit the eyes-glazing over syndrome.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Can You Like an Antihero?

What I'm reading: Master of Torment, by Karin Tabke

Last week's reads, especially 3 of Barry Eisler's John Rain series got me thinking about "heroes." As authors, we want readers to care about our characters. If they don't care about the protagonist, why should they finish reading the book? It's especially critical for a series, because a reader who doesn't like the character isn't likely to read the rest of the books. I know I follow a series when the characters draw me in. We want our heroes to be heroic. They might not be saving the world, but they should be acting honorably. What would we do if we were in their position? For a romance, the hero had darn well better be a good guy.

What happens when your hero has unlikeable qualities? Why do readers keep coming back for more when the hero is more of an antihero?

My cop contacts told me about the television show Dexter, where the main character kills people according to his personal code, instilled in him by his father. But he only kills "bad" people, those who have escaped the legal system, which gives it an interesting twist. Definitely not your typical hero.

Dexter is in its 4th season, so people are willing to accept the characters "hobby." Likewise, John Rain has come back five times since the first book. What makes people connect?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Write Habitat

Where do you feel most comfortable doing what you love to do? Today, my guest is Christine DePetrillo, a writer, educator, and environmentalist, shares her preferences.

Many idiosyncrasies emerge when one decides to be a writer. Only a certain brand and style of notebook is acceptable for story notes and research. Only a specific pen will capture a character’s line of dialogue stolen from a conversation overheard in line at the supermarket. Only the right pair of sweatpants will truly allow a writer to loosen up enough to let the story unfold as it pleases.

Only the “write” habitat will give birth to a writer’s best work. This includes the area a writer feels most like an author.

For me, I have two spots I would consider my Ultimate Write Habitats. The first is in my certified backyard wildlife habitat. In the spring, summer, and early days of fall, you’ll find me with my trusty laptop on the patio in one of the wooden Adirondack chairs my husband made. Around me the sounds and sights of nature inspire and cheer me on while I wrestle with words on the page.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Selling - House or Manuscript?

What I'm reading: Rain Storm, by Barry Eisler

Thanks to Susan Wiggs for sharing this - what writer hasn't been there?

I'm now officially in the 'submission' phase with my mystery. I've queried a few agents, and have sent off a submissions package to a publisher that said they'd be willing to look at a partial. And yes, I made sure that I followed their submission guidelines, one of which was a 750 word (maximum) synopsis. Given that my shortest synopsis to that point was hitting the 1200 word mark, I had some tightening to do.

To reach that length (I don't think 'shorth' is a word), I had to evaluate which plot points were vital, what character motivation was important, all the while hoping a little of my voice trickled through. And to make sure all 3 POV characters were represented, and there was nothing where a reader would say, "Well, that was a stupid thing to do; why not just do XX?"

So now, it's a waiting game. They say allow 90 days. They also say, "Do NOT approach us in any form of communication before that time is up." Of course, they say it much more nicely, but it's clearly a "Don't call us, we'll call you" scenario.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Feature - Cinque Terre

It's Friday Field Trip time again. This week, thanks to one of my faithful readers, Shawntel, we're going to Cinque Terre in Italy.

Shawntel is a newly married mother of three teenagers, a cat, a step-dog, and a horse. Within days a hedgehog will be joining her family. She didn't travel until she was in her thirties and immediately fell in love with it. Her first trip abroad was to England, Ireland, and Scotland with a large group of friends. Four years later, she loaded up and went to Italy, which was beautiful. Tuscany was exactly as she had pictured it and was lovely. Cinque Terre, however, immediately stole her heart. It was designated a National Park in 1997 and is a chain of five villages linked by hiking trails and a train. Gas-powered motorized vehicles are forbidden and though she's heard that electric busses are allowed, she didn't see one during her stay. She wants to share her love of travel with her kids, so they'll be taking a family trip to Italy in 2011.


View from a tower in Manarola, the second village in the chain of five.

Looking back toward Manarola from our walk to Riomaggiore

Thursday, January 21, 2010

RIP Robert B. Parker

Although I've joined the Twitter set, I haven't really found that it's something I want to spend hours a day tracking. I've yet to figure out the nuances. I have under 200 followers, and even filtering for those who I find have useful or interesting things to say, I can't imagine reading all those tweets. What do the people with thousands of followers do?

Aside from finding some interesting blog posts and articles that were tweeted by others, I spend very little time with the application. But I checked out a tweet by Sarah of Smart Bitches and found a recipe for a Red Bean and Barley soup that sounded good enough to send me to the store for the ingredients I'd need to make it. Yummy.

And it was via Twitter that I found out, sadly, that Robert B. Parker died. I went to my first SleuthFest conference because he was the keynote speaker. He was funny, friendly, and SleuthFest became one of my 'must go' conferences from then on. Indirectly, he connected me with a fantastic group of mystery writers and because of SleuthFest, I've continued to pursue writing mysteries as well as my romantic suspense books. I highly recommend it as a small conference with some big opportunities (I met the editor who bought When Danger Calls at SleuthFest).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Who Needs Directions?

What I'm reading: Hard Rain, by Barry Eisler

Thanks, Randall, for being my guest. You've given me a wake-up call too. Time to stop procrastinating and start submitting. Where to start?

Way back when, when I was in school, teachers would give a test to see if you could follow directions. You've probably seen them. You're told that you have to finish within a specific time limit, which seems all too short when you look at how many questions there are. You start reading, ignoring the first item, which says "read all the questions before proceeding." That's a total time-waste, right? Maybe you read the first few, but you want to get on with it so you finish. Only trouble is, at the end, it says, "Only answer the first three questions" or some other sneaky variation. Needless to say, there was a lot of groaning as those who answered all the questions found they'd failed the test.

Have we learned the importance of following directions? (I'm not touching the male-female question here.)

Moving along to writing:

The manuscript is finished. It's time to query. Agents? Publishers? Either way, you have to create that proper first impression. Hubby grumbles when I nag about all the staging when we have a house showing, but it's no different for a writing project. Home buyer or literary agent: you've got to grab them from the outset. They don't care that at this time of year the trees are shedding leaves and it's a losing battle to keep them away. The buyers look at the property and see "LEAVES TO RAKE." The editor sees "REQUIRES MASSIVE EDITING."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wake Up Out There

Today I welcome aspiring mystery author Randall LaBranche, who has some good advice for all of us, whether it relates to writing or not. I met Randall at the Y, where he wouldn't let me get away with cheating on the upper body machine I hated. But he would chat while I biked, which kept my mind off the workout tedium.

Thanks to Terry for giving me the opportunity to contribute an article to Terry’s Place. As much as I have pestered her on the recumbent bike at the Y, I’m surprised she even talks to me anymore!

In November, I hopped on a plane to warm Scottsdale Arizona, not once thinking how this ONE particular voyage would be the start of a three-day wake-up call. It all started out normal enough, a team development program with a medical technology firm on Friday, grab a quick puddle jumper to connect with my wife at the San Diego airport on Friday night and hang with my twin brother until Sunday. A little work, a little play, a little life transformation.

It all started with a unique team program involving a collection of about 150 corporate sales reps, some team building and a handful of incredible kids. The design of the session was a half-day of team activities that culminated with groups constructing 15 bicycles as the final goal. One thing that the participants DIDN’T know was the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) would be accepting the bikes to give to deserving children in the community.

Did I mention the participants also had no idea any kids would be there?

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Day ON, NOT a Day OFF

What I'm reading: The First Rule, by Robert Crais

Before I forget -- I'm doing the clone thing today. I'm over at author Karin Tabke's blog, The Write Life, talking more about character inspirations. Please visit! But don't forget to come back.

I was going to continue talking about how we can use frustrations to put our characters into conflict-ridden situations, but in light of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, my post topic seemed trivial. Grumbling about Realtors or computer crises to illustrate frustration doesn't mean much after watching the news.

Officially, it's a holiday here in the states, to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. But, as this graphic says, we should think of it as a day "on", not a day "off."

Personally, we've made a donation to a charitable organization we think will do what little good our few dollars can add. There are many of them, and if you're inclined to donate, I suggest you find one you think will put your money to effective use.

This might be a place to start checking.

Tomorrow, my guest is Randall LaBranche, a man I met while working out at the Y. He used to goad me into finishing the reps on the dreaded upper body machines, and we began chatting. Turned out, he's an asipiring writer, and he's got some great things to share. Please come back and see what he has to say.

Friday, January 15, 2010

We have a winner

The winner for Marie-Nicole Ryan's drawing is Wendy Qualls.

Congratulations, Wendy! Wendy is the winner of her choice of Marie-Nicole's e-books. Please e-mail Marie-Nicole with your choice at: marie AT marienicoleryan. DOT com. Also inlcude your choice of format. You can view her books by going to Please be warned Marie writes a variety of heat levels from average sensual to scorcher hot.

Friday Feature - a Tropical Getaway

Welcome to my new Friday Field Trip Feature -

How about a tropical getaway to warm things up. Even though we're supposed to be reaching more 'normal' temperatures in the 70's, it's been super cold for Florida for almost two weeks. Normal cold snaps are more like two to three days, so I'm sharing pictures from a trip to Hawaii, specifically Haleakala on Maui, and the Molokai Ranch Resort.

Since this is a new feature, I'd appreciate some feedback about page loading times for those on dial-up. I've tried to minimize the image sizes, and am keeping things to six images for now. If computers don't hang up viewing the page, I can try adding more. That is, if you're still interested in taking this field trips. Please let me know! I can try for larger images, or more of them. Or both.

And on to Molokai...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

That Magic Decoder Ring

How do you read? Decoding or Sight Words? And yes, this will get to a 'writing' topic, so hang in there. Please.

When I volunteer for the Adult Literacy League, training new tutors, one of the things we discuss is how people learning to read must be able to decode the markings on the page into meaningful words, sentences, and paragraphs. There are many ways we do this.

What does a reader do when confronted with a word he doesn't recognize?

We use our phonics skills, but they don't always work, since the English language is rooted in too many other languages that don't comply to those "rules." They work much of the time, however, so the ALL recommends using a phonics based approach as a basic starting point.

Another tool: In our training sessions we talk about Word Patterns, or Word Families, which might also draw on phonics skills. Can you compare the word to another that you already know? For example, if the student can't read the word "Shake", but can read "cake" and "bake", the tutor can use this as a way to help the reader recognize that "ake" makes a specific sound, and from there, can extrapolate how to form other words that end in "ake."

Of course, it won't always work. My favorite example is laughter. Change the "l" to a "d" and the words sound nothing alike. (Unless you're in my family, in which we've been know to refer to our dafters.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Confronting the Unexpected

What I'm reading: Rain Fall, by Barry Eisler

Thanks to Marie Nicole for sharing her story. There's still time to leave a comment on her post to enter the contest for a copy of her book. Scroll down. I'll still be here.

What's been going on in Florida started me thinking about disruptions, and how we deal with them. We spend a lot of time getting to know our characters so we'll know how they'll respond in any situation we subject them to. Or will we?

It's just as important to know how your character will behave when confronted with the unexpected. And, as authors, we need to keep the unexpected happening. After all, "Only Trouble is Interesting."

For example, here in Florida, we've had the longest cold snap on record. And it's been cold. Ice on the cars and rooftops in the morning. Some days, the temperatures never hit 40. True, if you're from Minnesota, you're probably laughing, but I've lived in Orlando for 22 years, and we've never had the heat running 12 days straight. Heck, most years, we don't have the heat running twelve HOURS, period. Now, it's been chugging along, eating up more kilowatt hours than our a/c does.

Some of the local power companies have been overburdened, and have had to cut power here and there. We have a nifty (usually) gizmo on our electrical system that allows the power company to shut down power to our heat or a/c units for brief periods of time when demands are too great. For this, we get a small rebate on our electric bill each month. In 22 years, it's been turned on exactly three times. Two of them this week.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Courage and Commitment

Today I'm pleased to welcome another animal lover, author Marie-Nicole Ryan to Terry's Place.. Are you afraid of adopting a dog with major issues? See what happened when Marie gathered her courage and adopted a Sheltie. And be sure to leave a comment because she’s giving away one of her books.

First of all, let me thank Terry for giving me the opportunity to talk about my favorite subject, Cassie the Wonder Sheltie, and how I came to adopt her. When my last dog had to be euthanized, I swore I didn’t want another dog. How could I replace Tazz? He was a darling cinnamon Chow Chow, and I’d inherited him from my son who moved out and couldn’t have a large dog in his apartment. Tazz was my best bud for the last several years of his life, so my heart was really broken when the time came to say good-bye.

That was in July 2006. I retired from my day job in October. Get another dog? No way. I was far too busy with my new Samhain contract; I just didn’t have time for a dog. And I wasn’t over grieving for Tazz.

Then fast forward until September 2008. I went to visit friends in upstate New York, and they’d just been given a Maltese puppy. Darling Buffy became my lapdog for the week I spent up there, and I finally realized it was time to start thinking about getting a new companion.

This time it would be a rescue, a small female, and it would be my choice. But I had all these nagging worries. What if I picked a dog with issues? I’d be stuck because I’d never be able to give a dog back. Would I be destined to call Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer? Would I be, for the first time I must add, the alpha in the household?

Having a dog would curb my freedom to travel. Vet bills are almost as expensive as human doctor bills. Yes, I had many, many worries.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dealing with Feedback

What I'm reading: Stand-In Groom, by Suzanne Brockmann

Someone once said, a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

As readers, we all have different tastes. There's no such thing as a universal "great" book. I'm seeing that now that hubby is home all the time. He's asking for book recommendations. His preference would be mystery over romance, so I've suggested authors. He's sampling them, and likes and doesn't like them for entirely different reasons. He's not into relationships between characters. That's one of the things that keeps me coming back to a series. He doesn't consider the books "bad" or even "not good." They're just not what he enjoys reading. Or, as he puts it, "too much mushy stuff."

Recently I entered a writing contest for an unpublished manuscript. Most contests in the romance realm are run by local RWA chapters, and most separate unpublished authors who submit pages from non-contracted manuscripts from published authors, who submit books. I've done both, and my results have varied, but hadn't entered any contests recently. So when I found a contest that didn't differentiate between published and unpublished authors, I was interested. Everyone submitted about 40 pages from a non-contracted manuscript, and the judging was blind. I had a sequel to When Danger Calls sitting around, and thought some feedback might be interesting.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Friday Feature - The Netherlands

Welcome to the first of "Friday Features." While this blog has an underlying writing theme, it's certainly not restricted to that audience. Everyone is welcome. I thought it would be fun to take some field trips. To that end (at least that's the plan), on Fridays I'll be sharing photos from some of my trips, and will also be welcoming guests to share their journeys in pictures.

I have a terrible memory for details. Couple that with my dread of description, and you'll understand why I like to have a camera available whenever I go out. One never knows when you'll find something worth recording.

I'll kick things off with some pictures of a trip we took to Holland. Hubby had a meeting in the small town of Harderwijk. While he was doing Important Meeting Stuff, I toured the countryside.

I hope you like it – and just maybe some of these shots will inspire a scene or a story for you as well. Or remind you of something you've read, or somewhere you've been. Today's shots were taken in the days before digital cameras, and I scanned my snapshots. Plus, it was a cold, gloomy day. Not the best quality, but I hope you get a feel for the place. And yes, I've asked my son to share some more of his Really Good pictures down the line.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Writing In the Moment

What I'm reading: Deeper Than the Dead, by Tami Hoag

When I read, I want to be immersed in the story. I want to see what the characters see, worry with them, rejoice with them, and follow them from Chapter 1 to The End. Too many characters, too many switches and the emotional connections get diluted.

For me, the key word is "follow." I'm a fan of deep Point of View, although if an author switches viewpoints smoothly, I don't mind. I don't care much for POV characters brought in for one or two scenes; I'd rather see them having a vested interest in what's going on, so I can care about them too. When I read those scenes, I'm often pulled away wondering if the author couldn't have found a way to convey that information via one of the main characters.

For example, I've been working on writing (and rewriting) the last two scenes of my book, trying to make sure I've got the right characters on the page at the right time. I've got two major plot threads to tie up, and the characters with the information the reader needs aren't in the same place.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Sounds of Inspiration

What I'm reading: Snow Blind, by PJ Tracy

And, thanks, Terry, for your great post. Wonderful bears!

Every writer has "ideal" writing conditions. Some like crowded, busy venues, others sequester themselves in closet-sized rooms. Some want to be outdoors. Some write in the early morning hours; others can't create until well after the sun goes down. Some like a cup of coffee, while others might prefer a more potent libation.

I find I tend to edit in the morning, and develop my full head of 'new material' steam in the late afternoon. I think it's a subconscious knowledge that I've done all the "real life" stuff and won't have any more interruptions.

I also have my writing music playlist. It runs for an hour, so I know how long I've been working when it's finished. It's familiar, so my brain doesn't pay attention to it on a conscious level.

I thought I'd share my playlist along with the 'why' of my choices, and how they relate to my work. I was trying to figure out how to get my iTunes playlist onto Blogger, but when blog crawling (Thanks, Mason Canyon!) I saw, another option and gave it a try. Fingers crossed that it works. I wasn't able to find one of the cuts from my Clannad album, and that's probably the only melody nobody would recognize, but I figured I'd give embedding the playlist a shot. And I've listed the songs as well, along with what they inspired.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Wilde & Woolly Bears Make the Headlines

Today, join me in welcoming author Terry Spear to Terry's Place. Yeah, I know it'll get complicated in the comments, but we'll figure it out! Terry creates not only award-winning paranormal romances and medieval historical romances, but award-winning teddy bears also, so learn what happens when a hobby becomes something more!

Have you ever loved creating a hobby so much, you’ve inundated family and friends with your talent and there is no one else to give to without it being too much?

Sometimes just giving away our well-loved creations can be enough. Years and years and years ago, I embroidered, quilted, hooked rugs, made cloth dolls, tie-dyed, cross-stitched, made costumes. All fun and great and everyone had so much of it, that although several pieces are keepsakes, hooked Christmas rugs and cross-stitched pictures, and one quilt for a bed and another Christmas quilt remain…but enough was enough.

Then my father and mother were making doll carriages and other furniture for doll collectors at shows and they needed something soft and unbreakable to use for display. Not cloth dolls. They wouldn’t have the right look for collectors who bought porcelain dolls.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Serving on Juries

What I'm reading: Dead Run, by P.J. Tracy

Originally, I was scheduled for Jury Duty today. However, our system has all potential jurors check in the night before to see if their randomly assigned number will have to report. Mine wasn't on the list. I'm disappointed. Unlike most, who will do whatever it takes to avoid jury duty, including not registering to vote (although now they use drivers' licenses for the initial selection) I look upon it as terrific writing fodder, and just plain interesting. (And, who knows -- a place to pick up a few more readers!)

Although I avoid carrying any of my stories beyond solving he crime, I find bits and pieces I can use, although I'd be hesitant to set an entire novel in the courtroom, or even attempt a legal mystery. There are enough authors who know the in and outs from personal experience. Bur my detective consults always explain their process in terms of what they have to do so their cases will stand up in court. As writers, everything is research.

I've served on several juries, including one drug trial in Miami, where they left us with a kilo of cocaine in the jury room. Believe me, what goes on in the courtroom is nothing like what we see on television. Another trial here in Orlando was a very simple "did the defendant know the item he was pawning for a friend was stolen property?' We turned in our verdict, and when the judge set the date for sentencing (which happens later), the prosecutor stood and said that date was unacceptable because the defendant was going to be on trial for murder on that day. No wonder there were some television reporters in the courtroom.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year 2010

I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year's Eve, and wish everyone the best for the new year. Thank all of you for your visits, and your comments. I'm humbled to see so many regulars here, and to watch my followers grow. Thank you.

One piece of news I haven't shared yet - Finding Sarah and Hidden Fire are now available for the Kindle.

Now, kick back and enjoy the first day of 2010. It seems strange to start the year by taking some time off, but I'm going to enjoy the weekend myself. I'll be here on Monday, and on Tuesday we'll kick off another year of weekly guests with author Terry Spear. Don't forget to come back.

Look at all those days you have ahead of you. So many chances to achieve those goals you set. You DID set goals, didn't you. Things you can measure? Do you have to go back and read my goal-setting post?

See you on Monday.